NI broadband projects fall 'well below expectations'

  • A report from the NI Audit Office has found that two major broadband projects in Northern Ireland may not have been value for money.

    The schemes received £35.1m in public subsidies. One of them was expected to deliver broadband to 117,600 premises, but the findings revealed it only improved access in 37,500 areas.

    It also noted access to broadband, at speeds of up to 30Mbps, is lower than any other UK region, particularly in rural areas.

    Both projects, which are funded by the Department for the Economy, did increase connectivity to premises across the region overall.

    One project assessed was the Northern Ireland Broadband Investment Programme (NIBIP), which laid new fibre optic telephone lines from existing exchanges to broadband exchanges in more rural areas.

    The second is the Superfast Rollout Programme, which involved laying new fibre optic telephone lines to roadside green cabinets.

    Work on both initiatives has taken place over the last six years.

    RELATED: Full fibre broadband rollout could attract over 30,000 people to NI

    The report was written by Northern Ireland's Auditor General Kieran Donnelly. It found relying on contractors to self-certify that costs were "internally consistent and consistent with its commercial investment" was not an adequate control.

    It also said performance through the NIBIP scheme fell well below the Department for the Economy's original expectations.

    "Many in Northern Ireland have faced Covid-19 lockdowns with inadequate access to broadband services, and while any improvement in broadband infrastructure is to be welcome, my report raises significant issues," said Mr Donnelly.

    He said he had better hopes for Project Stratum, funded by £165m secured by the DUP as part of the confidence-and-supply agreement.

    "It is vital that Project Stratum... finally provides an appropriate broadband solution for those rural homes and businesses in Northern Ireland which are still dealing with poor digital connectivity," he said.

    Project Stratum is expected to extend gigabit capable full fibre broadband infrastructure to around 76,000 homes and businesses across Northern Ireland. Its first customers were residents in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, who were connected to Next Generation Access broadband back in March. 

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